Photo: A view of Allen Lake, in the Perseverance Creek watershed. Courtesy of the Village of Cumberland.
While Courtenay and Comox residents suffer through another boil-water advisory this week, clear and drinkable water flows freely in the Village of Cumberland.
For Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird that fact alone justifies her council’s decision to not join the Courtenay-Comox water system. But she also likes to point out that the village will save millions of dollars for its taxpayers.
Because while those other Comox Valley elected officials search for the financing to build a $110 million water filtration plant, Cumberland has already received a $4.9 million grant to fund the $6 million first stage of its long-term water quality and supply system improvement plan.
Joining the Courtenay-Comox system would have cost Cumberland taxpayers $26.7 million upfront and annual operating costs of $600,000.
Bringing their own system up to current provincial standards will cost $6 million now (80 percent funded by the provincial Clean Water, Wastewater fund), another $6.5 million for further improvements through 2066, and annual operating costs of $255,000.
It was a clear-cut financial decision, Mayor Baird said, and it provides the village with water security for the next 50 years.
How the water system works
Cumberland Manager of Operations Rob Crisfield said the village’s water supply comes from five lakes in two separate watersheds — Allen Lake in the Perseverance Creek watershed, and Hamilton, Stevens and Henderson lakes and Pond. No. 2 in the Cumberland Creek watershed.
The five lakes in two watersheds that comprise the Cumberland water supply. The village has a license for future use of Vanwest Lakes.
A deep well drilled in Coal Creek Historic Park opened in 2013. It adds a groundwater supply to the watersheds’ surface water sources.
The system operates on nine water licenses, some issued as early as 1897, and serves Cumberland and everyone in the Royston water service area. The village owns all of the land around the lakes, but not all of the land in the watersheds.
That means the system is less susceptible to harmful logging practices in terms of the turbidity issue that plagues the Courtenay-Comox system. Cumberland has not issued any boil-water advisories.
However, some of the infrastructure in the hills above the village is more than 100 years old. While it’s been maintained well, many upgrades are necessary and underway.
Henderson Lake has the lowest elevation of the four lakes in the Cumberland Creek watershed, so its outflow makes the connection to the village’s water supply. It merges with a line from Allen Lake.
Where water lines from the two watersheds come together, the water is treated with chlorine. It then descends down to Cumberland via a single, one kilometer long 300 mm diameter pipe, before splitting again into two main trunk lines servicing different parts of the village.
What’s happening now
The village is installing a second “twinned” 300 mm pipe so it can regulate the flow from each watershed based on the amount of water stored in the lakes. That work should finish in mid-December.
Future work will include adding a new facility that will provides both UV and chlorine treatment. It will also switch from chlorine gas to sodium hypochlorite, which poses fewer risks for operators.
The village will also construct two new reservoirs to increase water storage capacity. One will go out to tender in the spring, along with the new UV treatment facility. The second reservoir will be built by the year 2040.
Sediment washing into Comox Lake through Perseverance Creek after a major rain event in 2014
Crisfield said the village will repair and replace some of its dams, most importantly the Pond No. 2 dam, which failed in December of 1972, causing a washout of the Henderson Lake dam. Both the Henderson dam and No. 2 dam were rebuilt in 1973, with a spillway out of Cumberland Creek watershed and into Perseverance Creek.
It was this spillway that undercut a kilometer-long 50-foot high bank during a major rain event in 2014. The ensuing slide washed sentiment, including clay particles, into Perseverance Creek and ultimately into Comox Lake, the source of drinking water for Courtenay and Comox. Following the slide, a the Comox Valley Regional District issued a boil-water advisory for Courtenay-Comox residents that lasted 49 days.
Crisfield said other dams will get either seismic stabilization, such as Stevens Lake did in 2014, or be completely rebuilt over time to meet the Canadian Dam Safety Guidelines in future years.
How residents benefit
When all the projects are completed, Cumberland and Royston will have a secure supply of water through 2066 that meets B.C. Drinking Water Guidelines. The more reliable and controllable system will reduce risks to human life, the water supply and the environment from a major earthquake.
The village was able to lift its moratorium on development in 2014 after opening the Coal Creek deep groundwater well.
It will surprise some that Cumberland is the fastest growing community in the Comox Valley. According to the 2016 Census statistics, the village grew by 5.6 percent to 3,600 residents. That beats Courtenay, Comox and all three regional districts, which each grew by 4.7 percent.
It’s even more surprising that during that same period of growth, Cumberland has reduced its demand for water by 41 percent, according to the June 2016 study by Koers & Associates Engineering Ltd. Cumberland residents used 49 percent less water and Royston residents used 17 percent less.
The lower water usage resulted from a new rate structure and the installation of water meters at all residential and commercial connections. People just naturally used less water. And the meters revealed many service leaks, which have been repaired.
Crisfield said once all these surface supply improvements are in place, Cumberland will have improved redundancy and reliability on water delivery, improved water quality and greater flexibility in how they can operate the supply system.
- The biggest challenge confronting Cumberland is how to rebuild the Pond No. 2 dam; specifically where to direct its spillway. If it goes toward Cumberland Creek, it could affect water quality in the village’s system. If it goes into Perseverance Creek, it could erode more sediment into Comox Lake. Crisfield hopes that a study underway by Tetra Tech consulting engineers, of Nanaimo, will find a solution to that problem.
- Meanwhile, Crisfield is interested in the possibility of generating hydroelectricity by adding turbines into the system’s water lines. Due to the large elevation drop, there may be sufficient pressure to power the water treatment operations.
Bears starving, sea lice out of control
PHOTO: One of the fish boats leaving the occupation site with the Kayactivists following. Susanne Lawson photo
By Susanne Lawson
NOV. 16 — I am sitting in a boat near a Marine Harvest fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago. I walk outside and the air stinks of acrid, penned Atlantic salmon and feed pellets that are continuously sprayed into the pens. The sound of the sprayers never ceases. It is depressing to see these fish leaping in the air trapped in these stinking pens. Salmon should never be in pens.
This farm has been occupied by local First Nations for almost three months now. There are multiple First Nations involved, very dedicated people.
There is a camp in the woods of kayakers standing by to help. They call themselves Kyactivists. There is another camp of people at a land-based house nearby that was built by Marine Harvest, which First Nations occupied. Marine Harvest has several land-based houses for workers, leased quite permanently (it seems) for comfort and ease of access.
These are public lands, public waters.
At the farm, five pens are empty as the protest has so far prevented more Atlantic salmon from being restocked and four are full of approximately eight-month-old fish. Marine Harvest does not have permits to restock at this time, yet are determined to go ahead.
There are about 4 to 5 boats belonging to supporters of the protest with people aboard them, providing support, transportation and warmth. The weather has been stormy, cold and wet.
First Nations people — Chiefs and their families — have maintained a presence here since August. Two young women, Molina Dawson and Karissa Glendale, in their early 20s, of the Musgmagw and Namgis First Nations, are living on the floats.
Chief Ernest Alfred and other hereditary First Nations of Alert Bay occupied Swanson Island fish farm and Wicklow fish farms this fall. Marine Harvest came in and stocked the pens in front of the Chiefs who were occupying the farm in full traditional regalia.
Seven people have set up a camp in the woods nearby, treating the area with great respect and understanding; one of them doing his doctorate in law and jurisdiction. It is a sweet space with big trees and a creek bubbling nearby.
Marine Harvest has gone to court seeking an injunction to have everyone removed. The judge has given both parties until Dec. 14th to present their case and in the meantime the First Nations agreed to remove their occupation and buildings. Marine Harvest wants to go ahead and restock the empty pens with Atlantic salmon smolts, despite First Nations objections.
The Namgis First Nations in Alert Bay
Things are at a standstill right now. Sad that nothing is preventing more Atlantic salmon and diseases to continue to prevail in B.C. waters, especially after such a concerted effort to bring about positive change to such a destructive process as fish farming. So much and so many are losing … commercial fishermen, sports fishing, families dependent on the wild salmon resource, bears, eagles, trout, marine life like seals, sea lions, and so much more.
It is impossible to weigh the values of what wild salmon have provided for the coast. Wild salmon are on the brink of disaster. Wild stocks are crashing. Alaska has closed all Chinook fishing. Bears and more have been starving on the coast. Sea lice are out of control all over the world where these farms exist and have been found on emaciated trout, ling cod, herring and more.
An application for 18 hectares of pesticide use has been made for Clayoquot Sound waters by another fish farm company, Cermaq, owned by Mitsubishi and operated out of Norway. We are all losing while others are profiting from our loss.
How far does this go? Until our amazing wild salmon are extinct? I hope for sanity to prevail. If this doesn’t turn around now, the irreplaceable loss of our wild salmon migration and all it nourishes will be one of the greatest regrets of this century.
Susanne Lawson and her late First Nations husband, Steve, have lived in Clayoquot Sound for more than 50 years. They have actively protected salmon, bears and natural habitat from mining and old growth logging. She’s an artist and writer.
Editor’s Note: This obituary was submitted by the family
Ruth Jessie Masters was a war veteran, avid hiker, historian, naturalist, environmentalist, protester but maybe most importantly she was one of ours – born and raised in the Comox Valley. She was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox on May 7, 1920. She passed away peacefully at the new North Island Hospital in Courtenay on November 7, 2017. She was 97 years old.
Ruth lived almost her entire life in her own home, which she built on her parents’ property in Courtenay. She served in the Canadian Air Force as a clerk in England during World War II and was promoted to Sergeant. In Courtenay she worked as a legal secretary from 1952 until 1992. Ruth was an avid hiker throughout most of her life. She made her first hike up Mt. Becher with her family in 1933 when she was just 13 and five years later climbed Comox Glacier and became one of the first members of the Comox District Mountaineering Club.
Ruth was a dedicated local historian. She never forgot her time spent oversees during the War and she never forgot the many who did not return. She spent countless hours researching names on the local Cairn and then lobbied the provincial government to name lakes and mountains in the area for many of the soldiers who served in both the first and second world wars. Her detailed compendium, “Lest We Forget” is on display in the Courtenay Museum.
Ruth also compiled other local history books that are on display at the Courtenay and Cumberland Museums – ‘Courtenay’, ‘Forbidden Plateau’, and ‘Ginger Goodwin’, each one leather-bound and engraved by Ruth. They are all probably best thought of as loving gifts from Ruth to the people of the Comox Valley.
Ruth was an environmentalist before the word was invented. She was passionate about the need to protect wildlife and the natural world. She always spoke up for those without a voice and always fought to protect the natural beauty of her homeland, especially Strathcona Park and the Comox Valley.
Ruth was known to put her body between bears and trophy hunters. She was on the beaches in Tofino in 1989 to clean up after the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. She carved up road-kill and drove them in her little red truck to wildlife rescue centres for food in both Parksville and the Comox Valley.
She could always be counted on to help out with blockades, protests and rallies to protect the environment. When mining threatened Strathcona Park she blew “Oh Canada” on her faithful harmonica at almost every arrest during the three-month standoff at Buttle Lake in the middle of the winter in 1988. She was a ‘master’ sign-maker, making directional signs for alpine trails and protest signs for her numerous causes.
Working side by side with her good friend Melda Buchanan around 1990, Ruth played a key role in lobbying to add forestland to Seal Bay Park. On a rainy, windy day in December 1994, along with Carol Neufeld and Fran Johnson, Ruth put her body in front of chainsaws to protect the trees in what we now all take for granted as MacDonald Wood Park in Comox. She donated 18 acres of her own land in Courtenay for the Masters Greenway and Wildlife Corridor.
Ruth ‘walked her talk’ and that is why so many remember her. She set an example for all of us for how to live on the Earth and leave it in better shape. Growing up ‘church-mouse poor’, as she would say, she always lived a modest life but was generous to a fault, giving to environmental organizations, wildlife protection groups, the SPCA, the NDP and many, many more.
Ruth was predeceased by her father, William Edward Masters, her mother Jessie Smith, and her only brother Bill. She is survived by her nephew James Edward Masters, distant relatives in Victoria and Ontario, and her God-daughter Lorrainne Dixon.
Lorrainne was tasked with making health care decisions in Ruth’s declining years and did an admirable job. Ruth was always firm that she wanted to live out her final years in her own home. As her health declined this was not always easy but Lorrainne held firm in respecting Ruth’s wishes and ensuring that Ruth was safe in her home.
Although she had few living relatives, Ruth built a huge family around her in the Comox Valley and in her declining years a small inner circle of that family helped Ruth stay in her own home.
Thanks must also be expressed to Ruth’s primary care giver – Yolanda Corke. Yolanda was Ruth’s daily lifeline, checking on her early each morning and afternoon and calling on volunteers when extra help was needed. More than anyone Yolanda provided the day-to-day care that allowed Ruth to remain in her home in her final years. Yolanda was at Ruth’s side when she passed away in hospital.
There will be a Celebration of Life for Ruth from 1 pm to 4:30 pm on Sunday December 10 at the Florence Filberg Centre – Conference Hall in Courtenay at 411 Anderton Avenue. Doors will open at 12:30. Donations may be made to the Ruth Masters Hero Spoon Award online at foundation.nic.bc.ca or by mail to North Island College Foundation, 2300 Ryan Road, Courtenay, BC, V9N 8N6, or to a charity of your choice.
Photo: The new engineered landfill that will serve the entire north Island
THE next time you drag your trash bins to the curb, think about what happens next to that garbage.
If you have conscientiously reduced, recycled and reused, you will have sent just a small amount of waste to the Pigeon Lake dump, now known by the gentrified title, Comox Valley Waste Management Center. And chances are good that your trash bin contained mostly plastic packaging.
When it reaches the dump, workers will bury your trash, and everyone else’s, in a landfill and leave it to decompose over the next 1,000 years. During that time, in older landfills, it will leach toxic liquids into the soil and methane gas into the atmosphere.
Landfills are North America’s third largest source of methane, which is 25 times more detrimental to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
Not long ago, the Comox Strathcona Waste Management board of directors (CSWM) thought they had so much landfill capacity that it didn’t seem urgent to explore more environmentally-friendly technologies for disposing of municipal garbage.
The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy (ENV) approved the CSWM Solid Waste Management Plan in 2013, and an amended plan in 2016 to permit construction of a new engineered landfill at Pigeon Lake that will contain toxic liquids and capture methane gas.
The new landfill is so big, the size of 11 CFL football fields, that it is projected to hold the entirety of the north Island region’s municipal waste for at least 20 years.
But what happens then, and do new technologies offer a better solution?
Director Rod Nichol
Those are the questions newly-elected Area B Director Rod Nichol started asking three years ago. Those questions led him to technologies that convert waste-to-energy (WTE).
Nichol’s efforts gained enough support on the CSWM board to formally explore the latest technologies that transform undiverted municipal solid wastes (MSW) into energy or recyclable materials. His goal was to reduce the volume of garbage buried in the new landfill and extend its usable life.
On Nov. 28, a special WTE committee, which Nichol chairs, will consider the recommendations of a consultant who has reviewed three different proposals to cope with the north Island’s garbage problem — Eco Waste Solutions, Sustane Technologies and WTT Technology.
It’s anticipated the technology review will answer several questions about waste-to-energy:
Do any of the WTE proposals provide sustainable and environment-friendly solutions? Will they reduce the cost of dumping? Will they undermine the progress of waste reduction programs? And will the provincial government even allow WTE when the north Island diversion rate is still well under 60 percent?
Waste to energy solutions
Two of the three proposals the CSWM board will consider appear to involve some form of burning waste to directly or indirectly produce energy or fuel.
While incineration is common in Europe, British Columbia has only one active WTE plant in Burnaby (built in 1988). And none of the applicant companies appear to have working models in Canada or the United States.
On its website, Eco Waste Solutions promotes burning undiverted residual waste in large incinerators to produce electricity. This would require a tall smokestack towering high above the Comox Valley.
Given that Island Health issued an air quality advisory for the City of Courtenay this week, and ongoing widespread concerns about the effect of wood stoves on people with certain medical conditions, it’s unlikely this proposal would garner much support.
Sustane Technologies’ website says their company has developed the technology to separate plastics from organic material, and to produce biomass fuel pellets and diesel fuel (from the plastics). It does not utilize incineration or any direct combustion.
There are other, less common, methods of turning waste to energy, such as gasification (which produces combustible gas) or pyrolysis (which produces combustible tar or bio-oil).
It’s harder to assess the third applicant, WTT Technology, from its website. The Netherlands company says it integrates mechanical and biological (composting and digestion) treatments in solutions tailor-made for each installation. It claims no harmful emissions, and does not mention incineration.
All three applicants claim their technologies can recover 90 percent of what the CSWM Center in Cumberland currently plans to bury in its new landfill. If true, that would mean the landfill could service the north Island 10 times longer than currently projected, perhaps for up to 200 years.
The technical reports submitted by the three companies and the consultant’s review will be made public a day before the CSWM’s Nov. 28 meeting.
WTE versus Zero Waste
Burning undiverted garbage (trash that can’t be recycled or reused) to generate electricity also produces emissions harmful to the atmosphere. And it makes no difference if the garbage is burned directly or converted into fuel that is burned later.
Buddy Boyd, a director of Zero Waste Canada, said the only real sustainable solution is a Zero Waste world, which he believes is possible without affecting our quality of life.
His group’s mission is “to help individuals, businesses, and governments transition to a circular economy, making the use of landfills, incinerators, and waste-to-energy plants obsolete.”
Boyd said the “so-called emerging technologies are unsustainable scams.”
“None of the proposals for the Comox Valley challenge the community to do better in living a zero waste lifestyle,” he said. “In fact, they do the opposite: They require a guaranteed supply of waste to fuel their operations and pay off the company’s capital costs.”
CSWM Director Charlie Cornfield, of Campbell River, said a zero waste world would be ideal, and to achieve it would require a massive global shift in manufacturing, packaging and education.
“We can’t change society overnight, so what do we do in the interim,” he said? “It’s better than we turn this garbage into fuel than to have it floating around like giant islands in the ocean.”
And, he called landfills a 19th century solution.
“We can’t keep throwing garbage into a hole,” he said. “Waste-to-energy is better, and will save taxpayers millions of dollars.”
Environment ministry policy
Responding to a query from Decafnation, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy sent the following statement via email:
“Current ministry policy supports the 5R pollution prevention hierarchy … whereby waste materials are managed at the highest possible level and waste-to-energy is not undertaken unless all of the higher level options have been considered.
“The hierarchy and current ministry legislation and guidance does not preclude any form of waste-to-energy or incineration but establishes criteria that must be met in order to meet higher levels of the hierarchy instead of disposal.”
Guidance documents for waste-to-energy can be found here.
The province prefers to let regional district determine the best strategies for disposal and managing municipal solid waste.
What’s happened so far
Besides the new landfill at Pigeon Lake, the Solid Waste Management Plan calls for environmentally-mandated closure of all other landfills on the north Island, including the Campbell River landfill; building transfer stations in those communities losing landfills; and, adding a methane burners and an organic composting facility.
The CSWM also asked Nichol’ committee to study waste-to-energy technologies.
CSWM Director Brenda Leigh, from the Oyster River area, says the last time the board looked at WTE in 2010, “we learned that the cost per tonne significantly exceeded the cost of landfilling and that we did not have the volume to make WTE economically viable.”
She noted that the WTE committee has probed other municipalities about contributing their undiverted garbage to a WTE stream.
“But as far as I am aware, this proposal hasn’t advanced beyond talking,” she said.
Nichol says he has spoken to elected officials in other communities, including Victoria. But he doesn’t anticipate volume being an issue as all three companies would scale their operations to the region and its projected population growth.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps told Decafnation, “Without knowing precisely what technology is being considered, I think Director Nicol’s approach to look for innovative solutions to use waste as a resource is commendable. In the 21st century we need to make every effort as local governments to create closed-loop systems and limit waste.”
What happens next
If the CSWM board wants to pursue construction of a WTE plant at Pigeon Lake, it would have to amend its Solid Waste Management Plan again and get a new approval from the B.C. government. That would mean either achieving a 70 percent diversion before approval, or convincing the province to bend on this criterion.
Then regional district staff would have to work out details and negotiate with the company selected to provide the service.
Nichol said he was told this process could take 18 months or longer, but he believes it could be completed more quickly.
How Canada and B.C. rank worldwide
Canadians generate more municipal waste than all other 16 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to the Conference Board of Canada.
We’re the worst performer, producing twice as much waste in 2008 as Japan, the best performer.
British Columbia does better at reducing, recycling and reusing than every province, except Nova Scotia. But we still generate 573 kg per capita every year of un-diverted garbage that must be buried in landfills.
And that’s a far greater amount of waste per person than the new provincial guidelines.
According to the environment ministry’s “A Guide to Solid Waste Management Planning,” which supports regional districts in developing goals and targets in their solid waste planning, there are two provincial targets for 2020/21:
1) Lower the municipal solid waste disposal rate to 350 kg per person per year; and,
2) Have 75 percent of BC’s population covered by an organic waste disposal restriction. The guide can be found here.
When Project Watershed and the K’omoks First Nation partnership finish restoring the former Field’s Sawmill site, an important piece of the K’omoks estuary will return to its natural state, a saltwater marsh.
The partners have decided to name the newly preserved property Kus-kus-sum in honor of the ancient K’omoks village that once thrived directly across the Courtenay River. It’s hoped that the K’omoks first Nation and the City of Courtenay will accept ownership.
The preservation of these 8.3 riverside acres represents a triumph by 21st Century environmentalists to protect the K’omoks Estuary.
But Kus-kus-sum isn’t the first K’omoks estuary marsh that needed saving.
And if it wasn’t for the efforts of the newly formed Comox Strathcona Natural History Society in the late 1960s and early 1970s to preserve another, larger marsh further down river, the Field’s Sawmill site might have been lost forever to commercial development.
Norma Morton, born in 1931 to a third generation Comox Valley family, remembers her father driving their Model T vehicle along the gravel road, known as Comox Road, or the Dyke Road, and counting the Trillium flowers flourishing along the riverside.
Ms. Morton remembers that before the Field family built a sawmill on the site, there was another enterprise located there called Riverside Laundry, a business that did all the cleaning for St. Joseph’s Hospital. And that after the laundry closed, she recalls that a cannery was built.
Project Watershed archive photo of Field’s Sawmill and Hollyhock Flats
When Ms. Morton moved back to Courtenay in 1966 after working for several years in Vancouver and Victoria, she was devastated by the uncontrolled development of a Valley that she remembered as pristine.
So she and her husband, Keith, and a dozen local enthusiastic birders and botanists formed the Comox Strathcona Natural History Society. It was the beginning of the environment movement in the Comox Valley.
Their first project was to protect and preserve a saltwater marsh just south of Field’s Sawmill, which had not yet been named and was being used as a dumping ground. The sawmill was filling in the marsh with chips, oil cans and trash.
Ms. Morton remembers it being even worse: Workers threw wire and other debris directly into the river.
The society had begun an 8-year battle.
About that same time, a University of British Columbia masters student by the name of Kennedy spent a summer cataloging all the plants thriving in the estuary, and in the marsh in particular. One of those plants was “sidalcea hendersonii,” or commonly known as Henderson’s Checker Mallow, or the Marsh Hollyhock.
To promote the natural history society’s efforts to save the marsh, local botanist Sid Belsom wrote an essay extolling its beauty and virtues and he headlined it “Hollyhock Flats in the Courtenay Estuary.” The Comox District Free Press (The Green Sheet) published the article in 1966.
That unofficial name has stuck.
The fight to save the marsh gained momentum in 1969. The society wrote a letter to Crown Zellerbach asking that the property owners preserve the marsh area as a nature conservancy.
By the early 1970s a Comox Valley chapter of the Society Promoting Environmental Conservancy (SPEC) had been formed by members of the natural history society and others.
Norma Morton, early Comox Valley environmentalist
Ms. Morton wrote a 17-page brief for SPEC that contained 10 recommendations to save the K’omoks Estuary. It had the support of provincial biologists.
The brief was sent to local mayors and other elected officials. But only Comox Mayor Dick Merrick had the courage to put its recommendations before the town council.
Merrick moved to preserve all the land between Dyke road and the estuary, from Field’s Sawmill to K’omoks First Nation as a greenway. The motion failed because no council member would second it.
But the council did support preservation of a section of land where an old shake mill had been located, which today is a Rotary-sponsored viewing stand.
Despite that setback, Ms. Morton and friends kept up the fight.
Their efforts were finally rewarded in July 1974 when NDP MLA Karen Sanford secured funding to purchase the 24.3 acres of saltwater marsh from Crown Zellerbach, southeast and adjacent to Field’s Sawmill. The purchase also included 1.8 acres southwest of Dyke Road between the tidal slough floodgate and the old LaFarge cement silo.
And Hollyhock Flats was preserved.
The Comox Strathcona Natural History Society eventually became Comox Valley Nature, and is still active in birding, botany and land conservancy.
It was this essay, written in 1966 by Sid Belsom, a member of the original Comox Strathcona Natural History Society, that gave Hollyhock Flats it’s name. We urge readers to follow the article to the end. The first three and the last seven paragraphs are particularly relevant to today’s fundraising drive to restore the old Field’s Sawmill site.
By Sid Belsom
Over the years swamps and marshes have been portrayed in many characters, mysterious, ominous, frightening, etc., but seldom are they thought of as interesting and beautiful.
To the passengers of the hundreds of cars that travel between Courtenay and Comox, the marsh between the road and the Courtenay River is probably a very drab and uninteresting sight that doesn’t even warrant a casual glance.
However, for the interested, this “drab” swamp is full of life and beauty, and in spring and summer it is transformed into a botanical bonanza. Starting early with Trilliums, Easter Lilies, Bleeding Heart, Peacock (or Shooting Star), Skunk Cabbage, these being followed by Blue Camas, Yellow Monkey Flower, Blue Eyed Grass, Musk Flower, Wild Lily of the Valley, Wild Ginger and Chocolate Lily.
By May and June, the whole area is literally painted with Indian Paint Brush, the blush of which is liberally dotted with the white of thousands of Tall White Bog Orchid, with the edge trimmed with Chocolate Lily.
As spring warms into summer, and the spring flowers fade away, the colour continues as the scene is taken over by the Wild Hollyhock, St. John’s Wort, the Purple Loosestrife, Water Parsnip, Silverweed, Fireweed and Hardhack.
In the wet spots throughout the summer will be found Veronica, Brooklime, Canada Mint and Hedge Nettle. Under the shade of the trees will be found the Star Flower shoulder-to-shoulder with the Wild Lily of the Valley, on the edge of the gravel the Self Heal ekes out a living whilst in the tangle of logs at the edge of the road where nothing else grows. Longstem Greencaps grow in abundance.
With the smell of fall in the air, the Douglas Aster is still putting up a brave show with the Blue Sailors, Gumweed, Cats Ears and Agoseris, but now the swamp is preparing for its winter sleep leaving pleasant memories to the few that have savoured its months of glory, enjoying each flower as it buds, blooms and dies, its place being taken by the next species and the next, the colour changing week-by-week as species follows species in this parade of colour.
Also adding to this profusion of colour are the shrubs that thrive here, the western Dogwood, Ninebark, Red Berry Elder, Waxberry, Honeysuckle, Black Twinberry, Saskatoon Berry, Ocean Spray, Salmonberry, Thimbleberry, Blackberry, Wild Rose, Sweet Gale to name some that call the swamp home.
These shrubs also add the colour of their berries to the scene as anyone that has admired scape and black berry of the Black Twinberry will agree. They also help the other inhabitants of the swamp, the birds. The summer picture would not be complete without the sound and sight of the Red winged Blackbird, the flash of the yellow on the tail of the Cedar Waxwing, the furtive rustle in the thick brush indicating the presence of a Towhee or Song Sparrow, proud “Poppa” Robin with a beak full of worms, the thrill of finding a Killdeers nest in the gravel and the amazement of not being able to locate it the next day, the busy chatter of the Chickadees and Siskins in the tree tops.
With the fall comes an almost complete change of bird populations, the Gulls begin to appear on the gravel bar at the edge of the swamp, the migrating Bonaparte Gulls usually being the first to appear followed by the Glacous Winged Gull that stands by us all winter.
The Mergansers and Grebes begin to appear on the river, the Coots will be found dabbling in the mud in the shallow water. The scaups and Scoters begin to appear and are soon joined by an occasional Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Loon while the Kingfisher looks from a high vantage spot of his dinner.
During the dull grey days of winter, the contrasting white of the Trumpeter and whistling swans can sometimes be seen as they feed there, whilst around its perimeter the Heron patiently waits for his next meal to come swimming by.
By the end of February, however, one begins to sense a stirring amongst the inhabitants of the swamp, maybe it is just a glimpse of the breeding plumage that now adorns many of the male ducks, or the exuberant display of the bubbling Bufflehead who seems to be willing to show off his dashing ways to anyone with time to stand and watch.
Yes, there is vibrant life and beauty in the swamp, if you have eyes to see it.
One cannot ignore the human touch, however, as the piles of indiscriminately discarded garbage are all too evident, dumped by people who have no eye or feeling to appreciate nature’s prolific display.
There is little doubt that in this river marsh there are more varieties and a more prolific display of our native flowers than any area of comparable size in this area (with the possible exception of Puntledge Park), but you won’t see it rushing by at 40 miles an hour.
Nature does not die although it appears to when it rests until it is ready to burst out anew each spring.
However, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that to some people this area is not looked upon as a storehouse of nature’s wonders, but as a prime piece of real estate that would make a first-class industrial site, and the green they see is not the marsh grass, but dollar bills. If this happens, it will surely die and nothing will revive it ever.
So, if you live in this area why not grant yourself an occasional few minutes this spring and summer to take a closer look while the chance is still there.
If you do take the time to look, please reap the harvest of pleasure with your eyes and heart, not by picking the flowers.
Published in the Comox District Free Press, Spring 1966
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